Thought Leaders

Interdependence Over Independence

Gaining management maturity has the same three phases that human beings go through to become mature.

First is dependence. This can be called the ‘you’ phase, where the child looks to others for its safety, wellbeing and pleasure. If someone withholds, the child is deprived. If others are caring, the child thrives.

Second is independence. This can be called the ‘I’ phase, where the child develops into adolescent and young adulthood. If all is going well, we would expect the young adult to develop the independent traits of taking responsibility, making sound decisions, and developing self-reliance.

Third is interdependence. This can be called the ‘we’ phase, where the independent adult chooses to increase their circle of concern beyond themselves, to include ever widening groups of people.

Interdependence is the recognition that people – and the social system within which they exist – are mutually dependent. We cannot function alone, we need social cohesion and the work of others to thrive.

And for the group or social system to be viable it needs us to make our contribution. Only independent people can choose to be interdependent.

Seen this way, independence is not an objective in its own right, but rather a necessary temporary phase that is a transition from dependence to interdependence. Staying too long as an independent is dysfunctional arrested development.

The heart of the independent is the self-centred ‘I’ and an egoic drive for selfish satisfaction. It is commendable that someone reaches this stage, but we should encourage further development and not see it as the target.

There is something uncomfortable about celebrating the sixty year old who sings “I did it my way”. We know that maturity involves more than looking after number one.

So it is with management maturity. As we learn our craft we are dependent on others for the knowledge, processes and standards to which we are asked to comply. Then we develop a level of independent competence to make decisions, be accountable and – at least to some degree – effective.

This would be level 2 on our 1 to 5 management maturity scale, where we rely on the skills of key individuals. This can be celebrated because competence is not that common, however accepting level 2 is to accept a high proportion of failure.

Most organisations can reach level 2 without much examining of its culture or the attitudes of senior managers. But to reach and maintain the higher levels, then interdependence is essential.

At level 3 we develop the interdependent processes where the work of different individuals are integrated into consistent streamlined processes.

At level 4 senior managers optimise the ‘system’ as a whole, rather than the efforts of individuals.

At level 5, the organisation, working with its strategic partners, optimises how their customers experience their service.

We need to recognise that independence should be a short-lived state, and we should value those of us who appreciate and cultivate interdependent working and cooperation. That is how organisations can be mature and effective.

PM Today Contributor
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